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Using animation to engage people on the global water crisis

17 May 2022

We’ve all experienced it. As fundraisers, the last two years have been both strange and challenging for us. But even before the pandemic the charity landscape was evolving and there was the need to adapt.

At WaterAid, we had been putting in place a new strategy to help us arrest any future declining trends through a focus on increasing consideration to support WaterAid by highlighting the impact our work can have on people’s lives.

Our starting point was a desire to evolve our storytelling, seeking different ways to engage people in the global water crisis and represent the communities with which we work. And so the animated story of Fara, a young girl from Madagascar began –resulting in the award winning campaign The Girl Who Built A Rocket, followed by a whole climate stories series.

Here’s how we did it…

Ensure authenticity for a story well told

Working towards our first campaign, we had a strong creative proposition and concept but there were two challenges.

  • Lockdown – which raised production concerns.
  • Authenticity – as we felt we couldn’t easily script an ad without putting words in people’s mouths.

So working with creative partner Don’t Panic London, we approached animation houses to find the right style and understanding of WaterAid and the story we wanted to tell.

Even with animation, authenticity was important to us. We worked closely with our communications colleague in Madagascar, Ernest Randriarimalala who was an integral member of the campaign development team. He advised on all aspects of the film, from Madagascar’s landscape to character details.

It was also vital we established this with our creative partners, and the animation team at Nexus Studios, from the start. They embraced the level of detail we wanted as we portrayed a community in which we have worked, and worked closely with Ernest.

Have confidence in new approaches

Animation is not widely used in the sector for TV advertising so it helped create cut through. We were able to capture audience attention and establish an emotional connection with a mass audience across multiple channels. This is because the core theme of the story resonated with our audience – Fara has big dreams for her future, just like children the world over.

Our campaign launch coincided with the well-publicised Mars missions, so that helped to create further relevance. Layered with this we had the recognisable voice of Trevor McDonald in the ad all of which lead to earned media opportunities.

By adding a call to action, asking audiences to visit the website, we also continued the journey with immersive storytelling – from animated Fara to the real life of Tantely, a six-year-old girl who lives in Madagascar and had previously experienced living without clean water.

Keeping true to the key fundamentals for brand messaging of creating emotional connection and a story that resonates ensured great success for our Girl Who Built A Rocket campaign.

Apply learnings to future projects

In the lead up to COP26, we needed to start building an understanding of the link between water and climate. We wanted to show how climate change was already impacting on people’s access to water. It wasn’t a crisis that was coming but one that was a reality for many already.

During the summer we had an opportunity to speak to mass audiences about the reality of climate change and to start building consideration for WaterAid in this space, so that when we needed to we were set-up well for making asks as we built up to COP26.

With the pandemic ongoing, creative development for a campaign targeted at mass audiences was still going to be a challenge. The ability to shoot new content was drastically limited and there was also the challenge of being able to collect climate-focused content that clearly demonstrated the issue.

Taking learnings from the Girl Who Built A Rocket and the storytelling that came from using animation we decided that this would be the best route for our upcoming Climate Stories campaign.

Use what you know

Animation allowed us to highlight the different ways climate change was impacting the communities we work in and provided a platform to build on other climate related content and asks.

Our creative partner Don’t Panic London identified a recurring theme; there were so many thoughts out in the public space on climate change, with differing opinions on the severity of it and what action should be taken. What was missing was the stories of those already experiencing climate change. This was where we could highlight the impact climate change was having on access to clean water.

From this came ‘experience not opinion’ – a platform we used to develop the creatives and wider campaign. We worked closely with our creative content team to find the right stories, and with the respective country programmes to ensure these stories were authentic and represented properly as animations.

Be adaptable

Initially we planned to develop a 60-second hero asset. After reviewing the initial scripts, concepts and media plans, we realised that for the messaging to land more effectively and to work across digital channels as well as TV, we needed to break the films down into three 30-second films. Each film with a different opinion and experience story (flood, drought and natural disaster) but all brought together with the same style and messaging.

Ensuring the creatives were digital-first would be important for this campaign so we could build out each of the stories on our website in a distinct way.

This did add time to production but meant we could diversify the channels we ran on – social, programmatic and TV – tell the stories in more detail, and adapt ad copy based on audience and platform and so increase our reach.

As part of the user journey we directed those coming from digital channels to an online poll asking their opinions on climate change before leading to a shorthand page with same title ‘climate stories’.

Our top takeaways

  • Always keep in mind your core objectives, your audience and drivers of engagement.
  • Start with the messaging and what you want your audiences to understand and then work out what is the best way to tell that story and build a campaign around it.
  • Lead times for animation are long and production is different, so ensure sufficient time to get an induction and develop your campaign.
  • Ask your agency partner to take you through the production schedule and highlight critical sign off points. It can be costly to make changes and could considerably impact your schedule.
  • Work with your Insight Team and consider research at early stages to ensure you are on the right track with your new approach.
  • As with any multi-channel campaign, work with your media agency from the beginning, considering where the animations can work best.
  • TV and digital channels work differently and require different types of assets – consider your budgets and what channels will provide the strongest engagement before deciding on your final asset list.
  • Animations are an entry point but to fully tell authentic stories you need to consider where and how these will be developed – digital storytelling platforms enable this.

Image credit: WaterAid

If you’re interested in finding out more about communicating the environmental crisis, whether it’s your core cause area or not, then join us for the upcoming CharityComms conference: ‘Communicating to create change: tackling the environmental crisis’.

Vicki Laing

Individual giving manager, WaterAid

Vicki is an experienced fundraiser who has shared remarkable stories of individuals and their relationships with water through TV, print and award-winning multi-channel brand and acquisition campaigns.


Wanji Wambari-Kairu

Digital acquisition manager, WaterAid

Wanji has worked in the not-for-profit sector for the last nine years, working across print, TV and mobile and currently leads the digital marketing team at WaterAid. Working across integrated consideration and acquisition campaigns to engage new audiences, build brand presence and drive both financial and non-financial actions.